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Using points to book a flight? Upgrade to business class Add to ...

This summer I'm cashing in some of my points and flying to Vancouver to visit friends. One has a six-month old, one will have a newborn and another just announced she's due in December. I'm excited to meet the newest members of our group but I'm also looking forward to some down time. Since I'm booking with points, I've added a stop in sunny San Francisco to the mix.

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Booking with points on Aeroplan allows you to make three stops for the price of two. The extra stop must be between your starting point and your destination. This flight will cost 25,000 points in economy class or 40,000 in business class.

Business class is out of reach for most of us when we are paying cash. When using points, upgrading to business class actually makes sense for long flights or when you want to treat yourself.

Let's say you book an economy seat on a flight this November from Toronto to Frankfurt, Germany. That would cost you just over $1,000. A business ticket is close to $4,200, so four times more costly. If you opt to use Aeroplan points, it's 60,000 points in economy or 90,000 points in business. So a points upgrade is only 1.5 times as much. Air Canada is taking steps to close this gap and the number of points required for an upgrade will rise as of July 15th. Click here for all of the changes in Aeroplan's Flight Rewards.

Fees and taxes can be a painful add-on to a "free" ticket but the fees vary so it's worth looking around. If you're booking this summer using Aeroplan points, search both Air Canada and their Star Alliance partners. If you're travelling outside of North America, you pay fuel surcharges for Air Canada tickets but not for Star Alliance. If you book the trip mentioned above (Toronto to Frankfurt) on Air Canada, you'll pay $540 in taxes, fees, and surcharges. Book the same flight with Lufthansa, a Star Alliance member, and you'll pay just $170 in taxes and fees.

There are also ways to save money when using cash instead of points to buy airfare. According to Rick Seaney, co-founder of FareCompare.com, online flight shoppers could save hundreds of dollars by splitting up their party. So if you are a family of four travelling to Florida and there is only one or two cheap seats left, the airline's computer system will automatically bump everyone up to the next price level with the available number of seats. Mr. Seaney's advise is to shop for one passenger first to get an idea of base price. Then compare this rate with the rates you get if you book your entire party together.

And have you ever booked a flight online and been asked if you have a promotional code? Even if you don't have one, don't leave it blank. Codes for flights can be found on sites like RetailMeNot.com, FatWallet.com, and PromotionalCodes.com. Plugging in the name of the airline and "promo code" in a search engine will also pull up potential savings. A search for promo codes on Air Canada and WestJet tells me of an additional 30 per cent off more than 20 flights on both airlines. Airlines also send out 24-hour deals through social media sites, so it makes sense to follow or become a fan of your airlines of choice.

Cheap seats are harder to come by in the summer, but that doesn't mean you can't snag a great deal. If you're jetting off this summer or organizing a fall or winter getaway, you can save significant cash by incorporating some of these steps in your travel plans.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group.

 

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